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JANUARY 19, 2019

A Janus-faced Quota
The 10% quota for higher-caste EWSs discredits the moral foundation of the principle of social justice.

he legislation granting a 10% quota in employment and routinely done by members of the higher castes, would now
education for higher-caste aspirants from the economi- amount to self-inflicted moral injury.
cally weaker sections (EWSs) was passed in both houses of Such an affirmation of this quota will likely make us ignore a
Parliament. This swift move on the part of the central government much larger problem that is associated with the legislation for
is within the compelling context of the forthcoming 2019 Lok the savarnas or higher castes. The 10% quota is at variance with
Sabha general election, which is why most of the parties found the very normative basis of the reservation policy, which was
it politically inconvenient to oppose it. Although, some of them envisioned for the benefit of the SCs. It is needless to mention
did express their reservations about the way in which the legisla- that the potential beneficiaries of the legislation would benefit
tion was introduced in Parliament. They opposed it on the grounds from a 10% quota based purely on the economic criterion, that
that the government in power at the centre did not give enough is, without having had to experience being subjected to the
time for discussion on it before it was tabled in Parliament for practices of untouchability, which originally served as the fun-
its final approval. Similarly, an objection was also raised about damental basis for providing the quota for the SCs. They have
the procedure that the government adopted in order to fix the received this quota without having had to face, as it were, the
criteria for educational and economic backwardness. How has civilisational violence resulting from imposed disabilities, such
the government arrived at the figure of 10%, without any proper as atrocities or social boycott. While these higher castes may
and thorough documentation by a duly constituted commis- be disadvantaged by poverty, treating material poverty as the
sion? Although the legislation suffers from these problems and sole basis for deciding the need for reservations would result in
is awaiting clearance from the apex court, the 10% quota may, the dilution of the original criterion on which the reservation
at this point in time, deserve some reflection on the possible for SCs was based. The practice of untouchability and imposed
gains that might flow from such a legislation. social disabilities are considered as important criteria for the
If the Court assents to the legislation and it is implemented justification of a reservation quota for the SCs. Reservation for
by the government, it is expected to help the needy among the SCs was thus defended even after untouchability was constitu-
higher castes. In some cases, it is also expected to eliminate the tionally abolished, since the practice of untouchability continues
desperation of those who, in the past, would resort to obtain- in many forms on the ground.
ing fake Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) certifi- It is absolutely crucial to note that the reservation of seats or
cates that were used to seek entry into professional courses fixed quotas for the SCs was considered to be necessary to rule
under the SC/ST quota. The legislation is also expected to keep out the destructive influence of caste prejudice, which often
savarna-caste aspirants from seeking adoption into SC/ST ends up stalling and deferring the implementation of these
families in order to procure SC/ST certificates. Such a legisla- very provisions. The primary aim of the provision of fixed quo-
tion would help them not resort to such deceptive self-charac- tas was to rule out any foul play associated with caste prejudice
terisation. Ironically, the 10% quota can help these savarnas and retain the virtue of sincerity that was so necessary to pro-
retain their authentic caste identity. In this way, they can now duce an outcome where SCs/STs would actually benefit from
avoid facing humiliation in courts of law on account of being the quota. It is for this reason that affirmative action by itself
exposed as fake caste certificate holders. The 10% quota is was considered to be inadequate in terms of tackling caste prej-
expected to reinforce the urge among the higher castes to be a udice. Affirmative action, as we know, provides only equal
part of the reservation fraternity, along with the SCs, STs, and opportunity, and not equality of outcome. The Constitution
Other Backward Classes (OBCs). went beyond affirmative action to adopt a fixed quota.
Finally, and most importantly, the 10% quota will prevent In this wider normative context, it is necessary to question as
these higher castes from holding reservations responsible for to what the normative compulsion is, such as the one men-
national disintegration and perpetuation of casteism, as they tioned above, that led the present government to introduce a
widely believe. Any attempt to criticise reservations, which was fixed 10% quota. What is the nature of prejudice that prompted
Economic & Political Weekly EPW JANUARY 19, 2019 vol lIV no 3 7

this government to enforce this mandatorily? Caste-based pre- The lack of opportunities is not due to untouchability, but due
judice certainly is not what has prompted the bringing in of a to the inability of the state and the market to provide enough
savarna quota. jobs for the qualified and the needy. Several articles and claus-
Unfairness or an element of injustice is rooted in the practice es of the Constitution demarcate the SCs for reservations based
of untouchability, whereas pure economic backwardness is on their comprehensive backwardness, and not selective back-
rooted in the systemic inability to provide jobs to the savarnas. wardness as is the case in the savarna reservations.

8 JANUARY 19, 2019 vol lIV no 3 EPW Economic & Political Weekly